Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp
Theatrical film poster
Directed by Robert Hiltzik
Produced by
  • Jerry Silva
  • Michele Tatosian
Written by Robert Hiltzik
Music by Edward Bilous
  • Benjamin Davis
  • David M. Walsh
Edited by
  • Ron Kalish
  • Ralph Rosenblum
  • Sharyn Ross
American Eagle Films
Distributed by United Film Distribution Company
Release date
  • November 18, 1983 (1983-11-18) (limited)[1]
  • May 25, 1984 (1984-05-25)[2]
Running time
84 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Sleepaway Camp (also released as Nightmare Vacation)[3] is a 1983 American slasher film written and directed by Robert Hiltzik,[4] who also served as executive producer. The film tells the story of a young girl and her cousin who are sent to a summer camp, where a group of killings begins shortly after their arrival.

Released during the heyday of slasher movies, the film is infamous for its twist ending, considered one of the genre's most shocking.[5] Now considered a cult film, Sleepaway Camp is also notable as the last screen appearance of Tony nominee Mike Kellin.


In 1975, John Baker and his boyhood friend Lenny take John's children Angela and Peter on a boating trip near Camp Arawak. Angela and Peter prank their father by capsizing their sail boat. They attempt to swim ashore where Lenny is waiting for them. However, they are in the path of a reckless speed boat towing a water skier, Delores, and driven by a counselor at the camp, Mary Ann. John and one of the children are struck and killed as Delores screams in horror for help.

Eight years later in 1983, Angela has been living with her eccentric aunt Dr. Martha Thomas and her son and Angela's cousin, Ricky. Angela is sent to Camp Arawak for the first time, along with Ricky, who has attended the camp previously.

Due to Angela's introverted nature, she is constantly ridiculed and bullied, mostly by her bunkmate Judy, and their counselor Meg. Angela’s other counselor Susie and the camp’s head counselor Ronnie are sympathetic to her situation and do what they can to help her feel at home.

The cook Artie, attempts to molest Angela, but Ricky catches him, and Ricky and Angela run out. Later, an unseen figure causes Artie to knock over a huge pot of boiling water on himself and he is severely scalded. Artie's incident is deemed accidental by camp owner Mel Costic.

At a social, campers Kenny and Mike mock Angela, prompting Ricky and his friend Paul to get into a fight with them. Afterwards, Paul befriends Angela. Later, Kenny is drowned, but his death also ruled accidental at Mel's insistence, even though Ronnie and police officer Frank voice their doubts.

Afterwards, Paul asks Angela to attend a movie with him. Later, campers Billy and Mike throw water balloons at Angela, and Billy is killed next, stung to death when he is trapped in a bathroom stall where the unseen killer drops a hive filled with bees. Mel starts thinking there is a killer in the camp.

The relationship between Angela and Paul grows strained when Paul kisses her, causing her to have a flashback to her youth when she and her sibling witnessed their father in bed with Lenny. Angela recoils from Paul's advances and runs away.

During a game of Capture the Flag, Judy seduces Paul, and Angela finds them kissing. Guilty, Paul later attempts to explain himself to Angela at the lake, but is shooed away by Judy and Meg, who throw Angela into the water. After being rescued by Ricky, Angela has sand flung at her by small children. She is comforted by Ricky, who swears revenge on her aggressors.

Later that night, Meg is stabbed to death in the shower while getting ready to meet with Mel. At the camp social, Paul apologizes to Angela for what happened and she asks him to meet her at the waterfront after the social. Meanwhile, Mel finds Meg's body and is convinced that Ricky is the killer, since he had threatened most of the people killed so far, for bullying Angela.

At the same time, the six children who threw sand at Angela are camping in the woods with their counselor Eddie, when two of them ask him to take them back to the camp. He returns to find the four remaining children hacked to death with his hatchet. Back at the camp, someone enters Judy's cabin and kills her by burning her with a hot curling iron and smothering her to death with a pillow. The camp is thrown into a panic with all the deaths. Thinking Ricky is the killer, Mel beats him mercilessly, only to be shot in the throat with an arrow by the real killer.

Frank the police officer is called and begins searching with the counselors for the missing campers. Paul is at the beach with Angela, who suggests they go skinny dipping. Frank discovers Ricky unconscious, but alive.

Ronnie and Susie find Angela sitting on the beach and humming, with Paul whose head appears to be resting on her lap as she strokes his hair. They are shocked when Angela jumps up holding a hunting knife, dropping Paul’s severed head, and they discover that not only is she the killer, but that "Angela" is actually Peter, her thought-to-be-dead brother.

It is revealed in a flashback that the real Angela died in the accident and Peter survived. After Martha gained custody of him, she decided to raise Peter as the girl she always wanted, already having a son. Shocked, Ronnie exclaims "How can it be? My God, she’s a boy!”, as the nude and blood-covered "Angela", with male genitalia in full view, stands before the horrified Susie and Ronnie, while letting out an animalistic sound.


  • Felissa Rose as Angela Baker
  • Jonathan Tiersten as Ricky Thomas
  • Karen Fields as Judy
  • Christopher Collet as Paul
  • Mike Kellin as Mel Costic
  • Amy Baio as Brooke Warner
  • Katherine Kamhi as Meg
  • Paul DeAngelo as Ronnie Angelo
  • Susan Glaze as Susie
  • Tom Van Dell as Mike
  • Loris Sallahain as Billy
  • John E. Dunn as Kenny
  • Ethan Larosa as Jimmy
  • Willy Kuskin as Mozart
  • Desiree Gould as Aunt Martha Thomas
  • Owen Hughes as Artie
  • Robert Earl Jones as Ben
  • Frank Trent Saladino as Gene
  • Rick Edrich as Jeff
  • Fred Greene as Eddie
  • Allen Breton as Frank Breton
  • Michael C. Mahon as Hal
  • Dan Tursi as John Baker
  • James Paradise as Lenny


The filming of Sleepaway Camp took place in Argyle, New York near Summit Lake at a camp formerly known as Camp Algonquin. [6] In interviews, screen play writer and director, Robert Hiltzik, has said that he attended that camp as a child. [7]

Unlike many of its contemporaries, which had adults portraying youth, the cast of Sleepaway Camp was primarily made up of adolescent actors.[8]


Sleepaway Camp had a limited regional release on November 18, 1983.[1] According to the American Film Institute, it had its premiere in Los Angeles the following spring on May 25, 1984.[2]



On release, the film was frequently compared to Friday the 13th due to their shared settings and whodunit plot structure.[9]

A review in The Courier-Journal characterized the film as a "Low-budget slasher in the Friday the 13th mold, with teen-age mayhem at a summer camp."[10] In the Chula Vista Star-News, the film was deemed "a tasteless picture about mysterious murders at a summer youth camp that obscenely blends beheadings, stabbings, pubescent impulses, homosexuality, and transvestism with a cast of junior high school actors."[11] The News-Press called it "A shockingly good slasher film, if you use the relatively fine first Friday the 13th as a measuring stick... it's just another crazed killer stalking nubile summer campers. But, this time, there are some truly creative killings and interesting plot twists."[12]


On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 80% rating based on 20 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The consensus reads, “Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending.”[13]

The website Bloody Disgusting gave the film a positive review, praising Felissa Rose's performance and the film's twist ending calling it "one of the most shocking seen since, possibly, Hitchcock's Psycho".[9] AllMovie wrote in its review on the film, "While most of the gender-bending story's sexual confusion is ultimately half-baked", "Sleepaway Camp is distinctive enough to warrant required viewing for genre enthusiasts."[14]

Over the years, the film has gained a cult following from fans of the slasher genre and garnered critical reappraisal. Film scholar Paszylk called the film "an exceptionally bad movie but a very good slasher."[15] Commenting on the performances in the film, film scholar Thomas Sipos wrote: "[the film] feels odd due to its contrasting acting styles. Most of the cast performs in a naturalistic manner, whereas Desiree Gould's performance as Aunt Martha is strikingly stylistic: broadly overplayed to the point of caricature."[8]

In his book The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey (2009), film scholar Bartłomiej Paszylk characterized Sleepaway Camp as "elevat[ing] the kids to the position of the movie's mass protagonist and becomes a tricky metaphor of the unspeakable pains and anxieties of growing up."[16] He further commented on the film's conclusion: "The epiphanous ending brings Sleepaway Camp further away from the likes of Friday the 13th and closer to such 1980s "slashers with a twist" such as Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and April Fool's Day (1986); but Hiltzik's movie goes even further than that: in this case the denouement doesn't just add a new dimension to everything we saw up to this point, but it pushes its way deep into our minds and stays with us forever."[16]

The film was featured on episode 48 of the podcast How Did This Get Made?, where hosts Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael, and guest host Zack Pearlman struggled to decipher the film's opening moments, due to the ambiguous relationships established at the beginning of the movie. Scheer later recalled that it had been most fan-requested film "by a landslide."[17]

Home media[edit]

Anchor Bay Entertainment released Sleepaway Camp on DVD on August 8, 2000.[18] Anchor Bay reissued this disc as part of a four-disc set entitled the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit on August 20, 2002, which also contained the film's two sequels, as well as a bonus disc featuring footage from the unfinished fourth sequel.[19] This boxed set, which featured a medical red cross on the front cover, was discontinued in late 2002 after the Red Cross filed a complaint against Anchor Bay, who subsequently redesigned the box art to remove the cross logo.[20] In 2005, the Canadian-based Legacy Entertainment released a region-free budget DVD release of the film.[21] However, unlike the original VHS release, this release contains numerous edits to the film to either shorten violence or certain moments like dialogue. [22]

Scream Factory released the film in a collector's edition Blu-ray & DVD combination set on May 27, 2014.[23] This release contains a 2K scan of the original camera negative, and this release also has the film in its original uncut version, unlike the DVD released by Anchor Bay.[24]

Related works[edit]

In the late 1980s, Hiltzik sold the rights to the successive Sleepaway Camp films, after which Michael A. Simpson directed two sequels, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988) and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989).[16] In them, Angela (now played by Bruce Springsteen's younger sister, Pamela Springsteen) resurfaces at a nearby summer camp, but this time masquerading as a counselor after a sex reassignment surgery.[25] Much like at the previous camp, she gleefully tortures and kills anyone who misbehaves or annoys her. These films had more of a satirical comic tone than the original.[26][27]

Another rogue sequel, Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor, directed by Jim Markovic, was partially filmed in the early 1990s but never completed.[16] In 2002 the unfinished footage was released and made available as an exclusive fourth disc in Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment's Sleepaway Camp DVD boxed set. In 2012 the film was completed (most of the film is archived footage from the first three films) and released on DVD and Amazon Video on Demand.

A new film, Return to Sleepaway Camp, was completed in 2003 and initially struggled to complete visual effects. It was directed by Robert Hiltzik, the director of the original 1983 film. He decided that this chapter will ignore the story lines of the previous sequels, stating that he wanted to pick up from where the original film ended. According to Fangoria, the digital effects were redone from 2006 to 2008. The film was released in 2008.[16]

The purportedly final film in Hiltzik's Sleepaway Camp trilogy, titled Sleepaway Camp Reunion, was also announced to be in the works. Distribution had been arranged via Magnolia Pictures. Creator Robert Hiltzik stated that he would make the film if his budget was met. However, Hiltzik and "Return To Sleepaway Camp" producer Jeff Hayes have since started working on a reboot/remake that would retain the key characters and elements of the original film with additional storyline elements and a dose of modernizing. As of Summer 2014, Hiltzik was reportedly tweaking the script. Although he had no rights to the film series, Michael Simpson, the director of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, wrote a script for his series of Sleepaway Camp movies as well, titled Sleepaway Camp: Berserk.

Series creator Robert Hiltzik now owns the rights to the Sleepaway Camp franchise, which, as of 2013, is to be rebooted.[28]


  1. ^ a b Sumner 2010, p. 171.
  2. ^ a b "Sleepaway Camp (1983)". American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved March 15, 2018. 
  3. ^ Harper 2004, p. 164.
  4. ^ "Sleepaway Camp". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 15, 2013. 
  5. ^ "25 Best Horror Movie Twist Endings - Best Twist Endings in Horror Movies". November 17, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2010. 
  6. ^ . March 20, 2018 Retrieved March 20, 2018.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ . June 3, 2014 Retrieved March 21, 2018.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ a b Sipos 2010, p. 39.
  9. ^ a b "Sleepaway Camp". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on June 7, 2012. Retrieved June 30, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Sleepaway Camp". The Courier-Journal. The Movie Page. Louisville, Kentucky. p. 22 – via 
  11. ^ Maleska, Eugene T. (June 10, 1984). "Movie Views". Chula Vista Star-News. p. 24 – via 
  12. ^ "New Releases". The News-Press. Fort Myers, Florida. April 21, 1989. p. 89 – via 
  13. ^ "Sleepaway Camp (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  14. ^ Beldin, Fred. "Sleepaway Camp - Review". AllMovie. Retrieved July 24, 2012. 
  15. ^ Paszylk 2009, p. 176.
  16. ^ a b c d e Paszylk 2009, p. 177.
  17. ^ Rabin, Nathan (7 February 2013). "Paul Scheer picks his favorite How Did This Get Made? episodes". The A.V. Club. 
  18. ^ Boisvert, Brian R. (September 19, 2000). "Review of Sleepaway Camp DVD". DVD Talk. Retrieved March 15, 2018. 
  19. ^ Tyner, Adam (September 3, 2002). "Review of The Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit". DVD Talk. Retrieved March 15, 2018. 
  20. ^ Zaccaria, Joy (November 8, 2002). "Article: Red Cross Invokes Logo Rights". Medialone News. Retrieved March 15, 2018. 
  21. ^ Sleepaway Camp (DVD). Legacy Entertainment. 2005 [1983]. ASIN B00077BOO2. 
  22. ^ "DVD Cuts Controversy - Official Sleepaway Camp Double Helix Films". Retrieved 2018-03-20. 
  23. ^ "Sleepaway Camp Blu-ray: Collector's Edition". Retrieved March 15, 2018. 
  24. ^ "Sleepaway Camp Collector's Edition (US Blu-ray Review) - Diabolique Magazine". Retrieved 2018-03-20. 
  25. ^ Stine 2003, p. 277.
  26. ^ Harper 2004, p. 165.
  27. ^ Sipos 2010, p. 65.
  28. ^ Yamato, Jen (October 31, 2013). "Cult '80s Slasher 'Sleepaway Camp' Eyed For Franchise Reboot". Deadline. Retrieved July 30, 2014. 

Works cited[edit]

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